Decoding an Act

Updated: Jul 28, 2019, 08:04 IST | A correspondent

A new conference will decode and deconstruct the art laws of India

Decoding an Act
Ashvin Rajagopalan

Ashvin Rajagopalan, director of Piramal Museum of Art, hit upon the idea of the new conference, Art Laws of India, while working on an in-house problem. "Last year, we were considering venturing into an antiquities collection. When we started researching, we came across two discoveries. Firstly, there was a limited availability of registered antiquities in India. Secondly, the limitations within the process of acquiring antiquities would perhaps keep us from beginning any such acquisition programme at the museum. Further research showed us the many gaps and loopholes that exist in the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972, in a modern context, and when thinking about a conference idea, we thought—why not start there?"

While the Act was instituted to prevent smuggling and fraudulent dealings in Indian antiquities, its mandate extends a lot more. "The founding of the Act was based on archaeological mandates, with little engagement with other groups and stakeholders, such as litterateurs, historians, anthropologists and curators, who provide alternative and valuable insights into our material culture and the impact of the Act on those who possess such art objects. This has led to several controversial cases of overreach by official agencies, including the confiscation of art objects from private and public collections, arrests of prominent art dealers, media trials and harassment of collectors. What was thus valid at the time of Independence, no longer fits the requirements, reality and needs of a confident modern-day state that seeks to celebrate its past."

The keynote speaker includes Naman Ahuja, art history professor at JNU, while other speakers are prominent voices, such as collectors Aditya Ruia and Abhishek Poddar and art historian Dr Annapurna Garimella. "The speakers have been selected based on their experience working with and their understanding of the Act and its various manifestations. The presentation by Dr Garimella will elaborate on how one defines everyday household objects as antiquities (if they are more than a hundred years old), what would be the registration process in such a case, and is the government prepared to look at that scale of documentation, considering the wealth of such artefacts across the country? We will also cover religious objects. Take for instance the 'Shia Alam,' which gains religious sanctity during the time of Muharram and is a commercial object during the rest of the year. How does one deal with such objects?"

When: August 9 & 10; 9.30 am to 6.00 pm
Where: Piramal Learning University, Agastya Corporate Park, Kurla West; artfoundation@piramal.com
Entry: Rs 999 – Rs 1,999
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